Marketing Context: How to Get It Right

I’m a devout believer in targeted, individualized marketing. Behavioral or demographic, they both have their place. As a marketing consultant, I advised my clients to send the right message to the right person at the right time. That message can be sent in an email, an SMS, a social post or an advertisement. Marketers are starting to see the advantages of a personalized, multichannel approach and are coming onboard.

Unfortunately, good strategy can go bad without a little tact. Regardless of message type, there’s one area in which a lot of marketers are still missing the boat: context. As marketers gain access to discriminating information, it’s important to keep in mind that people have varying preferences for how companies should use this information to engage them. Depending on the message, the marketer’s context will either improve or damage the relationship. In other words, avoid getting “creepy.”

To help you in this pursuit, let’s take a look at three marketing techniques that drive engagement, how marketers ruin each with bad context (complete with examples from a customer perspective), and how you can implement them in a way that enhances the customer experience.


What It Is and Why You Should Use It: With web tracking in place, you know where people have been on your website and what they’ve looked at. With some 3rd party data, you might even know what they looked at on other sites.  If they don’t take the desired action, you can use retargeting ads displaying your product and services to reengage them after they leave your site and increase conversions.

How Bad Context Ruins It: When the retargeting ads displayed directly mirror a person’s browsing history, an unwelcome “big brother”-vibe can creep into your marketing efforts.

Example: You’ve got time to spend browsing. You go to an online store to look at winter coats. You didn’t see one you liked. Maybe they didn’t have your size. For whatever reason, you’re over it. You move on to the news and when you bring up an article to read, there’s a banner ad for winter coats. And not just any winter coats, but the same winter coats from the same store you were just looking at! Creepy. Thanks banner ad for reminding me to clear my cookies.

How to Properly Use This Data: Think like a consumer. Better yet, run a test, focus group or survey. Sometimes we need to be reminded about what we desire, so using remarketing to keep the buying impulse top of mind is a smart move. But there needs to be a subtlety to it. Be mindful of your audience’s awareness. Some customers don’t understand cookie based tracking; they will get upset if they notice ads “following” them.

If you run a jewelry store and someone is browsing engagement rings, the chances that they’re going to buy one tomorrow is slim. Men will shop for months before they decide. Women might be out browsing for fun and will never buy. So, spend less and wait a week before triggering the banner ad. And don’t show a banner ad of the exact same ring — that’s too pushy and creepy. Instead, get your creative team involved. Show a picture of a man proposing to a woman and link to a landing page where the person can download your guide to finding the perfect engagement ring.


What It Is and Why You Should Use It: Every day, contacts tell you something by submitting a form, and you can use that information to personalize their experience — showing different web pages, delivering unique emails, etc. Because it enables you to provide an individualized experience, building a database of consumer information can be a tremendous benefit to marketers.

How Bad Context Ruins It: When companies take the data people gave them and ignore or abuse it, it can detract from the customer experience rather than enhancing it.

Example: Thanks for your order for flowers, your mom will love them! Would you like to join our mailing list for coupons and promotions? Good. Oh, but you only buy flowers for special occasions and holidays? Too bad. We’re going to change your flower-buying behavior with our aggressive email marketing campaigns. When we’re done with you, you’ll be buying mom flowers three times per week. Creepy. Guess I’ll unsubscribe and try your competitor next time.

How to Properly Use This Data: Be realistic. Your promotion should mimic the consumer buying cycle. Email can be a personal one-to-one communication, or it can be a generic advertisement — the choice is yours.

To provide a more personal experience, consider creating a communications preference center. Include options like “Email me weekly, I love flowers” and “Only email me around major holidays.” Or take it up a notch and invite customers to provide special occasion dates (e.g. “Mom’s birthday”), and then sends reminders 21 days before that date – with a “10% off” coupon to incentivize them.


What It Is and Why You Should Use It: Every day, customers and prospects are likely posting something on social media related to your company. Depending on the context, reply, message or follow them to create a relationship. A good brand experience by one maven can help grow your audience tremendously.

How Bad Context Ruins It: Social is all about connecting. If your social response to someone doesn’t match the context of the original interaction, you can harm the relationship rather than enhancing it.

Example: You just stayed at the worst hotel ever! The room smelled, the staff was rude, and your complaints were ignored by management. Your friends know you travel a lot and value your opinions and insight. It’s time to give this hotel chain a wake-up call to improve, so you post a scathing review. Instead of management contacting you, a week later, the hotel is now following you on the social platform. Creepy! Get away from me. They need to be blocked, and additional posts need to go out blasting them even more.

How to Properly Use This Data: With social, you want to communicate the best experience possible. Through keyword tagging and setting up keyword alerts, you can see what people are posting about your brand. Make sure to interact with them regardless of the experience to hopefully convert them into brand loyalists.

If someone says something great about your brand on a social media platform, follow them and reply back. I had an excellent experience at a hotel chain and complimented the front desk staff on a microblogging site. The hotel thanked me for my business with a reply post. That’s all I needed. That one-to-one interaction created an appreciation that could develop into brand loyalty.

If someone says something negative, do your research. Look at their other posts. Do they complain often about many brands? Are they looking for handouts? Sometimes a constructive complaint warrants a personal reply, sometimes it warrants a social reply, and sometimes no reply is the best strategy.

Got any examples of marketing context gone awry? Share your experiences below.

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